Lawyers Must Avoid Citing Overruled Judgments

Today, one young lawyer asked us about a ‘method’ to know whether a law laid down in judgment stands overruled? In our view, the only way out is to do caselaw research. Some Legal Research Websites like Manupatra and SCCOnline may be helpful in this regard, but only to some extent.

If you want to know whether a particular point in a High Court judgment stands overruled – First you may have to research whether there is a Supreme Court judgment on that point? If no, then you may have to check whether there are recent judgments of the High Court which takes a different view on that point. Even if you got a Supreme Court judgment that affirms the law laid down in this High Court judgment, you may have to further research if there is a change of view recently by a larger bench.

The point is that a lawyer should make all reasonable efforts to ascertain, whether a decision has been overruled before citing the same before a Court.

In a judgment, the Delhi High Court had observed thus when it found out that a lawyer cited an overruled decision. “This, I assume is a bonafide error. The counsel for the petitioner, it is hoped, would be more careful in future and take care to make all reasonable efforts to ascertain, whether a decision has been overruled before citing the same.”

In D.P. Chadha v. Triyugi Narain Mishra reported in (2001) 2 SCC 221 , the Supreme Court observed: “A lawyer must not hesitate in telling the court the correct position of law when it is undisputed and admits of no exception. A view of the law settled by the ruling of a superior court or a binding precedent even if it does not serve the cause of his client, must be brought to the notice of court unhesitatingly. This obligation of a counsel flows from the confidence reposed by the court in the counsel appearing for any of the two sides. A counsel, being an officer of court, shall apprise the Judge with the correct position of law whether for or against either party.”

On this issue of citing overruled judgments, the Supreme Court had made these remarks in State of Orissa v. Nalinikanta Muduli, AIR 2004 SC 4272 : “Members of the Bar are officers of the Court. They have a bounden duty to assist the Court and not mislead it. Citing judgment of a Court which has been overruled by a larger Bench of the same High Court or this Court without disclosing the fact that it has been overruled is a matter of serious concern. It is one thing that the Court notices the judgment overruling the earlier decision and decides on the applicability of the later judgment to the facts under consideration on it. … It was certainly the duty of the counsel for the respondent before the High Court to bring to the notice of the Court that the decision relied upon by the petitioner before the High Court has been overruled by this Court. Moreover, it was duty of the learned counsel appearing for the petitioner before the High Court not to cite an overruled judgment… We can only express our anguish at the falling standards of professional conducts.”

It is unfortunate that at the Supreme Court level counsel cite judgments which have been overruled, the Supreme Court observed in Raj Kumar v. State of U.P : AIR 2019 SC 4902.

Untill a few decades ago, it was quite difficult to check whether a particular judgment stands overruled since there were no such legal research tools like we have now. So now, it is more important for lawyers to avoid citing an overruled judgment since they have access to many resources to make all reasonable efforts to ascertain, whether a decision has been overruled.

1 thought on “Lawyers Must Avoid Citing Overruled Judgments”

  1. Thank you for this article, Sir. Would appreciate if you write a more detailed version of this article- so as to enable us to understand in detail the most effective to do it. Unfortunately the same is not documented anywhere.

    Appreciate it.


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